The Legal Advocate

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Get To Know NITA’s 2017 100 Hour Club Part 2

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Here at the National Institute for Trial Advocacy we are fortunate enough to have over 800 volunteer faculty each year. We would like to take a moment and introduce to you those faculty who have given us over 100 hours of their time in 2017 to help train advocates all over the globe. In part two of this series we highlight three more of these faculty members. If you missed part one, find it here.

MICHAEL WASHINGTON
San Diego County Superior Court
Oceanside, CA
Volunteered 177 hours in 2017, teaching at several programs including; Building Trial Skills: Los Angeles, our 2017 National Session, and Building Trial Skills: San Diego.

How did you first become involved with NITA?
I was first invited to teach at a NITA program by my former law school professor and trial team coach, Janeen Kerper. She believed that I might have something to share as a young trial attorney. I am forever in her debt.

Why do you teach for NITA?
I teach for NITA because I think with my experience I can help others be more effective and more ethical advocates. Teaching allows me to connect with old friends while making new ones. Teaching for NITA also made me a much better attorney, and now a better judge, by exposing me to individuals that I probably would have not otherwise had an opportunity to meet.

Is there a particular NITA program that’s dearest to your heart?
This is tough for me because I’ve had the chance to teach at so many amazing NITA programs. If I had to pick one it would be Building Trial Skills: Southern California at Loyola Law School. This is the program that I have taught most often, and this year marked my twenty-year anniversary teaching there. I started as a wide-eyed young attorney struggling to apply the NITA method consistently to becoming the Program Director in 2017. Of course, I am forever grateful to the previous Program Director, the amazing Professor Gary Williams.

What do you hope to bring to the legal profession?
Joy. The legal profession so stressful and we often lose sight that it can enjoyable. I was fortunate enough to always have a legal job that brought me joy, and I want others to learn how they can have fun while dealing with the stress of learning new skills.

CHRISTOPHER WHITTEN
Superior Court
Phoenix, AZ
Volunteered 136 hours in 2017, teaching at several programs including; Building Trial Skills: Los Angeles, our 2017 National Session, and Building Trial Skills: San Diego.

How did you first become involved with NITA?
In 2003, one of my favorite law school professors, Allen Snyder, asked me to help with the Pacific Regional (San Diego) Trial Program. I had been doing trial advocacy training on a much smaller (and much lower quality) basis in Arizona for about twelve years. That first faculty meeting hooked me. There were so many great trial lawyers and advocacy teachers. I was in awe a bit. In 2006, about the same time I was appointed to the bench, I started to get more invitations to help in other programs. For some reason, people seem to think judges intrinsically know how to be effective advocates (mostly wrong, or we would still be advocating). Since 2006, it has been a rollercoaster of amazing experiences, people, and opportunities to serve. I’ve made a lot of good friends and learned from some great teachers over the last fifteen years.

Why do you teach for NITA?
When I was a kid, my father helped run an orphanage in La Paz, Mexico. A big part of my upbringing, and probably anyone else’s who was Jesuit-schooled, was “women and men for others.” I’ve always gotten far, far more out of volunteering than I’ve given. That’s especially true with NITA, where I constantly get the good feeling that accompanies helping that lightbulb pop over a young lawyer’s head when she figures out a skill, but also where I get to learn from world-class faculty for free. Over the last decade and a half, I’ve been able to hear lectures and feedback from living legends of advocacy training. I only wish I could put some of the golden nuggets I’ve heard into practice myself . . . maybe someday.

Oh, and the faculty dinners. NITA people are generally fun people.

Is there a particular NITA program that’s dearest to your heart?
There are three. San Diego is where it all started for me. Now, every year, I get to work with one of those living legends, Mary Jo Barr, to put on the best trial program we can there. Dom Gianna began inviting me to New Orleans a decade ago, and has yet to figure out how little I add. Those programs are special for a number of reasons, but mostly for the people Dom and Lisa Marcy invite every year―a real familial vibe. The National Program is the cream of the crop. The level of talent on the faculty, top to bottom, is always so impressive. Karen Steinhauser and Michael Washington will shepherd it well in the future. I always pick up three or four things to steal while I’m there and use at other programs as if they were my own.

What do you hope to bring to the legal profession?
Without getting too corny, we really are privileged to work in a noble and important profession. Along with physicians, people entrust to lawyers, and trial lawyers in particular, to some of the biggest, scariest problems in their lives―literally life-and-death or bet-the-company issues. It’s truly humbling, but can also be stressful. Sometimes that stress makes us treat each other poorly. It would be great if, at the end of my career, I could say that I helped move the needle towards a more courteous bar. But really, like a physician, my goal is “first, to do no harm.”

ROBERT MCGAHEY
Denver District Court
Denver, CO
Volunteered 181 hours in 2017, teaching at several programs including; Deposition Skills: Rocky Mountain, our 2017 National Session, and Building Trial Skills: Rocky Mountain.

How did you first become involved with NITA?
It’s far enough back that I can’t even remember the exact year, but sometime in the ’80s, Mark Caldwell [NITA Program Development and Resource Director] called me up and asked me to be a last-minute replacement for the Rocky Mountain Regional. Someone (and I can’t remember who) had recommended me. I agreed to do it and found the experience terrific. NITA became an important part of my life from then on.

Why do you teach for NITA?
The smart-aleck answer is: “Self-defense. The better I can train lawyers, the easier my job is.” The bigger answer is that I am devoted to trial advocacy and its value to people. I wanted to be a trial lawyer from age nine, which was when Perry Mason started on TV. I thought that was the coolest thing I ever saw, and I wanted to do it. I’ve been fortunate to be able to spend my adult life involved in the legal system, first as a lawyer, then as a judge, and I’ve been able to teach advocacy as well. The value of “advocacy” is profound. The word “advocate” comes from the Latin “ad-vo-cate,” which means “to be called to speak for.” How cool is that? Since I care about advocacy, I want to see it done properly, which is why I teach. Maudlin though it sounds, the people I teach will be practicing law after I’m dead. It’s important to me to know that the advocates who come after me will be doing the job right.

Is there a particular NITA program that’s dearest to your heart?
Any public service program, any one at all. Lawyers at public programs and custom programs are great to work with, too, but they frequently have resources supporting them that public service lawyers lack, including the chance to attend NITA programs. Since public service lawyers frequently represent underserved segments of society, being able to help those lawyers get better is very, very rewarding. And given how quickly public service lawyers can be thrown into court, the improvement they make on Friday in Nita City translates immediately to better advocacy for their clients in court on Monday!

What do you hope to bring to the legal profession?
Experience, concern, a dedication to justice, and a passion for advocacy done right.

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NITA’s team of practicing lawyers, professors and judges from around the nation dedicates its efforts to the training and development of skilled and ethical legal advocates to improve the adversarial justice system.

NITA’s Goals are to:

  • Promote justice through effective and ethical advocacy.
  • Train and mentor lawyers to be competent and ethical advocates in pursuit of justice.
  • Develop and teach trial advocacy skills to support and promote the effective and fair administration of justice.
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